In January I launched Ignite, a new service that turns an idea into a business. While it was initially aimed at people just starting up their business, it quickly became apparent that it was also hugely appealing to existing business owners who needed a business refresh.
Many of us when setting up a business decide on a name, logo, website and direction pretty quickly. But as we start working with clients, things change. Our services adapt to what our clients want. We fall out of love with some bits and want to refocus on others. Sometimes that means a new name, a new logo, new packages or services and it almost certainly means a new website is needed.
One such client was Cynthia Sillars. She is a natural health practitioner. Before going through the Ignite process, Cynthia felt her branding and website were dated. She no longer offered some of her services and wanted to add new ones. But she couldn't alter her website because of the way it had been created. You can see her old site here.
It was time for a fresh start.
We started with a strategy call to get really clear on what Cynthia was offering, who she was offering it to, how she helped her clients and the best way to reflect what it was she did as it's fairly complex and difficult to explain. Here's what we got clear on:
Speaking to Cynthia, one thing became clear - her belief in the healing power of nature. In one of those weird synchronicity moments, I said to Cynthia that to me she takes her clients on a journey. Her imagery should be around a path, walking outdoors, going on a journey into nature. And she replied that those were the exact images she had already pinned to her Pinterest board. Spooky.
In another slightly surreal moment, I mocked up a logo which I thought reflected Cynthia, despite never having met her face to face. When I asked her what type of logo she was thinking of, she said she'd like something that looked like her handwriting. She then sent me a scan of her handwriting. It was an almost identical match to the font I'd selected for her logo.
We had the basics in place. While I began work on her web copy, my designer Meg created a logo and brand palette.
Writing the copy was another challenge. Cynthia offers a broad range of services, many of which are exceptionally complex to explain. They also had to be written about in a way that would appeal to her clients, many of whom don't need to know how they will have their health problems fixed, they just want them fixed. This was a case of cutting back. Less is more.
With copy, imagery, fonts and branding in place, Meg set about creating the website. Cynthia wanted something simple that she could change and adapt as she needed to, including adding blog posts. We advised her to create a free opt in to build up her email list. We gave her pointers on what it should cover, suggested title names and set up her Mailchimp account so that she could start to build an email list.
Meg also designed her Facebook header, her Mailchimp newsletter template and branded up her free opt in ebook. Finally Cynthia received her Next Steps guide and marketing plan template so that she could crack on with marketing her business.
We've both been on hand throughout the process to answer any of Cynthia's questions. In just 30 days, her website went from this:
You can see the website here. We have advised Cynthia to get her own photographs taken that reflect each of her service sectors - the path, the journey, the view - which she will be doing down the line. For now though, she has a beautiful looking website that captures what she does for clients without being overly medical, overly complicated or too wordy.
This is what Cynthia had to say about the process: “I had been searching around for ages to find a web designer, one who was affordable and who could help me get through my problem, which is that I’m over methodical.
Each of them had something to offer, but in the final analysis, when it came to the copy, they said ‘That’s your bit – you write it’.
A chance meeting with a colleague after Christmas put me in touch with Melissa. I knew straight away that she could do the bit I couldn’t, plus Meg could do all the web design.
Job sorted, it was an intensive 14 days of putting the copy together in a way that truly expressed what I do, but in a way that would make it entirely accessible to everyone.
Then on to the web site, learning how to use the back of the site (so easy!) putting together Mailchimp, tying in the Facebook page, and setting up the fonts on my computer so I can maintain ‘brand’.
I’ve been in practice a long time, but the start-up package called Ignite, with it’s one stop shop approach, was perfect for me because I’m busy and needed to get the job finished in the quickest possible time.
Thank you Melissa and Meg, you were both so helpful."
Would you like to transform your business? The Ignite package is no longer available, but with the Clarity, Copy & Canvas packages, you can go through a similar transformation for your business.
It was half-term last week. And even though I had the luxury of having a husband at home to entertain the kids and time to work, I lost my mojo. In fact, I lost my desire to do anything other than put on my walking boots and walk as far away as possible.
And I did. I stomped around Malham Cove and Gordale Scar. I breathed the smell of woodsmoke hanging in the cold air and squelched through mud. I switched off. Getting some fresh air, headspace and most critically, escape from the internet, gave me a crashing moment of insight into why I had the blahs.
This isn't bullying from trolls. This is self-flagellation, something we do to ourselves. It's where we join social media, sign up to newsletters and join networking groups because we feel we need to. It's where we read inspirational quote after inspirational quote and useful tips to transform your business, your body, your life - repeatedly. It's the stream of filtered images and carefully crafted Facebook ads that drum home the message that you - and your business - are not enough.
This digital avalanche of information is done under the guise of being helpful - and yes, plenty of it is - but so much of it is poorly disguised advertising or has a hidden sub-text saying: 'You're doing it wrong. You should be doing more.' For small business owners, this can be crushing.
It's more than that.
It's the dumbing down of everything so that it fits into a moment. A life made up of bite-sized inspirational quotes, filtered images and top ten lists is a life lacking context or depth. It's like condensing an entire novel into a single paragraph to save the reader time. Except that you have to read 10,000 of these individual paragraphs. It makes your brain feel full and empty all at the same time.
Worst of all, it's addictive.
How often do you watch television and look at your phone or ipad at the same time? Go out to a restaurant. Look at the people around you. How many are on their phones checking out their feeds? Go to an event and watch the number of cameras snapping away, ready to share the moment with the world. They can't help themselves. We have forgotten how to just be instead of reaching for a device.
I am guilty. Of it all. I look at my phone when I shouldn't. I share those inspirational quotes and write up blog posts that are genuinely intended to be helpful, but may easily make someone else feel crappy about the fact that they perhaps haven't written a press release or entered an award. This post included.
And it was the realisation that, not only do I dislike this digital overwhelm, but that I am propagator of it, that made me lose my mojo. How can I be part of an industry that adds to this digital noise?
I know that the world has changed. For businesses - regardless of size - to survive, you need to promote yourself. You need to create content that will engage your readers and share information that will get more people following you. Social media, email marketing, blogging, PR - it all helps tell people about you. But it is exhausting - both for you the generator of the content and for the readers.
When I confessed this feeling with someone last week, they kindly said that if you share with authenticity and a genuine desire to help, it shows.
So this blog post I have no real tips to share. I don't even have any inspiration. I simply want to tell you that if you feel this way, it's ok. The irony of writing this blog post (which I will no doubt share with my email list and on my social media pages) isn't lost on me. But I just felt compelled to put it out there.
Because if there is one thing I have learnt, it's that if I feel strongly about something, I know there will be others out there who feel the same. This blog post is for you.
If you are after advice on how to handle this, this is all I've got:
Give yourself time away. Go outdoors. Put your phone down. Look up. Unsubscribe to some of the stuff you're getting. Turn off notifications. Read an actual book. Do something inspirational rather than reading about it. Switch off. Then start afresh.
That's what I'm doing today.
Here's a confession. I hate calling journalists. To be fair, I also hate calling to order a curry take away or to get a plumber round. I may be a borderline introvert. But when you work in PR - or if you do your own PR - you will be told that you need to call journalists to encourage them to use your press release.
Now I know that some journalists, particularly those at local newspapers, do like to get stories via the phone. But I would say that most journalists cannot stand getting called and asked whether a press release was received. They're busy and will invariably tell you to email it to them. And you're back at square one. Because of this, I have spent 20 years in PR learning to write press releases that will sell themselves, so that they get used without me having to call.
And now I'm going to share how to do this with you.
First of all, what is a press release?
A press release is a tool to share information with the media. They have a set format using the inverted pyramid (more on this below). And they tend to be used for news i.e. something new. They are different to an article or blog post, which provide opinion rather than news.
Press releases can get run practically verbatim, particularly in trade media and local papers. But often they are a door opener. The journalist reads your news and finds something of interest. It may not even be the thing you're focusing on in your press release. They could be working on a feature on a related subject and decide to include you. Or they could call you up and ask to interview you on your business because it sounds interesting.
More often than not, press releases get ignored. There are plenty of reasons for that:
- They're written like an ad
- They have no real news
- It's not relevant to the publication or journalist
- There is not topical hook or angle
- It just doesn't fit into the publication at that time
- The journalist is swamped and misses it
It's that last reason that people tend to call up journalists. And it's valid. But I am a firm believer that if you target your press release correctly and you write it well, it will get attention without the need to chase. I have plenty of clients who I have written press releases for, who have followed the steps I told them to take, and have had their releases run practically word for word without having to pick up the phone.
Here's how to do it:
Step 1: Remove your ego
If your press release sounds like an ad for your business, it probably is. And it won't get used. If you make it all about you, how wonderful you are, how delighted you are that something has happened to you, it won't get used. If you insist on having a long company descriptor - about why yours is the best company ever - right there in the opening sentence, you are on a hiding to nothing. Remove your ego.
Step 2: Think like a reader
Read your press release. Does it sound like an ad? Ask yourself: What is the reader getting out of this?
Let's say you are a nutritionist and you have launched a new detox programme that you want to share with the media. If it is GENUINELY different from anything else out there and it will have a profound impact on the lives of the readers and you are targeting a health publication, then write about it, but be sure to focus on the benefits to the readers.
However, most people believe their product is the bees knees. You need to step outside of your business and look at it coldly through the eyes of a reader. Are you simply trying to flog something or are you providing useful, interesting content?
Now, if you told the reader what the top three every day toxins in their diet were and how to combat those, that would be useful. And if you then went on to say that you have created a new detox programme to sort the problem out, you have a far better chance of getting interest. It's an art to marry your actual news with something readers want to know.
Step 3: Use normal language
Something happens when people try to write press releases (I'm particularly looking at you US technology companies). They turn into very boring, cliche-filled, pompous fools. They try to use big, clever sounding words. They add in extra words that no-one would ever use in day to day language. Be human. Use small words. Use short sentences. Cut out adjectives and cliches. And never, ever, ever use the words unique, state of the art or revolutionary.
Step 4: Spend time on your headline
The headline is the hardest part of a press release to write. I tend to write it last. It needs to be short (no more than 10 words). It needs to grab attention but also tell the journalist what the press release is about without resorting to clickbait tactics. Go to a reputable news site and read some of the headlines. That is what you're aiming for.
Step 5: Do the opposite of what you learned in school
You do not want a teaser intro, a meaty middle and an epic conclusion that reveals all. Press releases use an inverted pyramid model. You want to get all the facts out up front in that first paragraph. Who, what, when, where, why. Answer those questions succinctly but using interesting words that make the journalist want to read on. The second paragraph can explain the how. The third can be a quote from someone. It needs to have an opinion or some facts. Wrap up with a final paragraph telling the reader where they can get more details or pricing info.
You can end it with boilerplate information - a short paragraph about the company, with an offer to editors for additional information, samples, images or interviews. Don't forget your contact details.
Here's a sample outline of what a press release should look like:
Should you call a journalist?
Public relations is about, well, relationships. So talking to journalists goes a long way to doing this. As does meeting them. But you can build a relationship via twitter, being helpful, responding quickly and putting them in touch with people that can help them. But if you are just starting out and find it all a bit intimidating, take heart. You can get good results without having to pick up the phone. And once you've built up an online or email rapport, calling them is actually a doddle.
Wondering why you should write a press release?
I wrote a press release for a client of mine. She sent it to one industry trade publication. They ran it. She secured over £30K in new business off the back of it. Press releases may be a very basic PR tool, but written well, they do work. They may not generate instant sales like the example I've just given, but publicity helps build your credibility and it massively broadens awareness of your business, without you having to pay for advertising space. And as press releases that are posted online get listed in Google news, they massively boost your SEO too.
If you need help writing your press releases, check out my PR Firestarter Kit. Or for even more PR help, take a look at my bite-size, super affordable coaching videos that teach you what you need to know in 30 minutes.
Got press release related questions? Post them below or head over to my Facebook page and join the campfire chat.